We are outraged.
Racism, sexism, income inequality, ecological destruction, corruption, and violence are rampant in our world today. The world should not be this way. It is an outrage that it is this way.
But is it possible we are framing this whole thing in the wrong way? Are we in fact framing it in the way most likely to keep things as they are?
First, let me be clear. I’m a straight, white American man from an upper-middle class family. I have much less reason than most to be outraged by the way the world works. The world is working for me in many ways. I am not the one who bears the brunt of the world’s injustices.
I don’t mean to suggest that things are fine how they are. I don’t mean to suggest that we should not be doing everything in our power to address the inequities, injustices, and violence in our world. Addressing these issues is essential to our collective survival.
Expectations vs. Goals
What I do want to ask is: Do we do ourselves a disservice with our framing? Do we hurt ourselves by holding justice and equality as expectations, rather than aspirational goals?
We seem to imagine the way a perfect world would operate. It is just, equitable, peaceful, and loving. We then get outraged when the real world fails to meet that standard. We imagine what equality would mean and then become despondent when we realize how far off the mark we are.
But is this a realistic way to look at the world?
For the vast majority of our history, Earth and human civilization have had very, very little, if any, justice, liberty, fairness, peace, or equality.
Species have been constantly outcompeted and gone extinct. Meteors have hit and wiped out entire ecosystems. Slavery, rape, and torture have been cultural norms for the vast majority of human history. The powerful and wealthy have marginalized the poor for millennia.
For much of our history, we have simply accepted these realities as “the way things are.”
But something changed. We humans started imagining a different world. In response, humans literally invented the concepts of “justice,” “liberty,” “fairness,” and “equality” as values and goals to strive toward.
We have allowed ourselves to imagine a possible world where slavery, rape, and torture are not norms and have set out to make that world a reality. Of course, we are still far from realizing this goal – slavery, rape, and torture all still occur today. But think of the progress we’ve made!
We have evolved from primordial ooze that had no semblance of morality. We grew into to plant life, into reptiles, into birds, into mammals. Humans have emerged from this evolutionary chain and have literally invented concepts like “justice” in the hopes of taking ownership and control of their future.
The trouble is, we invented justice, liberty, and equality and immediately made them an expectation, not a goal to aspire to. We act as if we have always had them and only recently had them taken away.
We know this is not true.
I can’t tell you not to be outraged. The world we live in is far off from what it can be. And there are billions suffering because of it.
But let me at least offer a reframing.
We are right now creating a new world of justice, equality, and peace out of an old world of primordial ooze and chaos. And we have made tangible, inarguable progress.
If we expect a perfect, just, equitable world, we will always be disappointed. If we imagine that justice and equality are things that have been taken away from us, we will always be discouraged. But if we recognize that these values are our own inventions and that they must be fought for, we might find that we get closer every day.
When have we ever been closer to achieving justice, equality, and peace than right now?